Write on Wednesday – Countdown – October 31, 2018

A FaceBook post from a cast member in the new play, A Christmas Wedding, that blocking for the play was complete got me thinking about how playwrights turn their babies over to directors, cast and crew.  It’s an open adoption of Laura’s and my work. We’ll get to see how the baby is raised but someone else is now doing the heavy lifting. Getting the show on its feet and ready for the curtain to go up. It’s a thousand details and, I expect, some sleepless nights for the director.

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When I think about those details a wave of anxiety (okay a small tsunami) washes over me before I remind myself that every single one of the people involved in the new show and the original want each performance to be the best it can be.

We, the playwrights, have a vision and the words we’ve written must stay the same. That’s in the contract.  But that’s where any control we might have ends. Each director has a vision, an interpretation of our words and how they instruct the actors to say them. The blocking can make a difference and put a slightly different spin on the characters. The set and costumes are part of that spin. Every production is different and that makes each unique.

Of course my writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I are going to see the shows. We have a busy December planned. On Friday, November 30 we fly to Indiana. That night we’ll see the opening performance of The Santa Diaries in Crawfordsville, Indiana produced by the Sugar Creek Players and performed in the Vanity Theater. Directed by Keith Strain  and produced by Kym Bushong.

On Friday, December 7 we fly to Faribault, Minnesota and that night will see the premier of A Christmas Wedding: Santa Diaries Two performed by the Merlin Players at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Julianna Skluzacek is the director.

And on Friday, December 14 we fly to Bath, Maine to see Chocolate Church Arts Center’s opening performance of The Santa Diaries, directed by Dennis St. Pierre.

At each venue we’ll see two performances. It will be exciting to see our babies all grown up. Laura and I are filled with gratitude to all the people involved in producing our plays, and humbled by the dedication of time and talent that goes into each production.

To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God bless you, every one. You are awesome!”

 

Write on Wednesday – The Santa Diaries Goes to Indiana and Maine – July 18, 2018

Laura Ambler and I are over the moon.  Last week we got word that The Santa Diaries will be produced in Crawfordsville, Indiana this year by the Sugar Creek Players as their Christmas Show.

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And then two days later we were approached by the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine who also wanted to do the show. Of course, we said “YES.”

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Laura and I are honored that the original The Santa Diaries has chosen by the Sugar Creek Players and the Chocolate Church Arts Center for production this December.We are big fans of community theaters which play important roles in so many small towns. They build community and often become families for local actors, musicians and front and back of house volunteers.

Community theaters throughout the country have also saved countless buildings. Sugar Creek’s home is a former movie theater, as is the Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland where we live. Chocolate Church is one of two iconic Gothic Revival Churches from the 1840’s located in Bath. This church would have been demolished, but local citizens, recognizing its architectural significance and in the spirit of supporting the cultural arts, came together to create The Chocolate Church Arts Center. It received this name because of its unique chocolate brown color that covers the original caramel color it was before it had been painted white. Here’s a link for its interesting history.

The Sugar Creek Players, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, found a permanent home when W. Addington Vance and Myron Pattison deeded the Vanity Motion Picture Theater to them. Prior to that Sugar Creek had been producing shows at Wabash College, in local high schools, gyms and once in a Holiday Inn. In 1988, despite tar paper flooring, folding metal chair seating, and a lack of air conditioning, the opening show in the new theater was a success and the Players finally had a home.

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The cherry on the top of our Christmas pudding is that the sequel to The Santa Diaries will be produced in Faribault, MN by The Merlin Players who commissioned the play. Almost all the actors in the original prodcution of The Santa Diaries will play the same characters — five years later. Brandeee is pregnant but who is the father? The new show is titled: The Santa Diaries: A Christmas Wedding. We are beyond grateful that The Merlin Players reached out to us.

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Our plays will be in three states this December. Laura and I hope to be able to attend some of the shows. A road trip is being planned.

 

Write on Wednesday – Short Attention Span Theatre – July 11, 2018

Last Sunday I attended (with Laura Ambler and my husband) the Short Attention Span Theatre in Chestertown, Maryland. Performed in the Garfield Center for the Arts,  on Chestertown’s main street, the space used to be a movie theater. Laura spent summers with her grandmother who lived in Chestertown and remembered seeing movies here — sometimes with bats flying in the high ceiling. I saw no bats on Sunday.

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A group of playwrights meets monthly at the Garfield to read each others works and critique them. Here’s a link to more information in case you’re interested in the group. Once a year nine or ten ten-minute plays are selected for production. This is the 14th year for these Short Attention Span Theatre productions. Why did we never get to one before?

During the intermission we smelled popcorn. Laura loves popcorn and went to the concession stand to get some. You could get a beer or a glass of wine but they didn’t have any popcorn. She came back disappointed. We wondered if we were having a folie à deux, the psychiatric term for a shared delusion.  The first ten-minute play after the  intermission had a bowl of popcorn as a prop. Turns out we aren’t as crazy as sometimes we think we are.

We love theater because we always get ideas, and these ten minute plays must be a challenge to write. No time for multiple plot lines. The story is set up right away and moves quickly to the denoument when the threads of the plot are pulled together. Several of the plays relied heavily on physical comedy which also gave us some ideas as what Laura and I write often turns comedic.

We really went to see the show because our writer friend, Brent Lewis, was on the bill. (It was piece of Brent’s writing that I shared on last week’s Wednesday blog post.) His play,  All Over But The Shouting, has only two characters, cranky elderly brothers in a nursing home who think an incoming missile is going to obliterate them in ten minutes. This gives them just a little time to try to resolve every damn argument and misunderstanding before they are blown to bits.

Below are Brent, me, my husband Roger and Laura. Laura’s husband would have been with us but he was flying.

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But I’m really glad we went. Brent’s play was awesome and I know from experience how important it is to have people you know see your work — and like it. Somehow Chestertown, Maryland seems further than going to Baltimore, but it’s not. We need to try harder to see local theater and support all the playwrights, even the ones we don’t know.

Write on Wednesday: Soul: the Stax Musical

Going to the theater is always a treat. For Laura Ambler and for me, it’s also educational. As playwrights we watch to see if there’s something to learn — and there always is.

Sunday afternoon we saw the World Premier of Soul: the Stax Musical by playwright Matthew Benjamin. It was a great show. The narrative arc was the origins and life of Stax Records in Memphis. Stax began as Satellite Records in 1957, founded by Jim Stewart — a banker by day and a country fiddler by night. Stewart had a dream, but no knowledge of the recording industry. With the help of his older sister, Estelle Axton (who mortgaged her house to buy recording equipment for the studio) they set up shop in an abandoned movie theater in Memphis, Tennessee.

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These two white people (who didn’t know that what they were doing was impossible)  launched the careers of of iconic artists—Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG’s, Rufus & Carla Thomas, David Porter, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Taylor, and Eddie Floyd—artists who made American Soul Music mainstream. What a great story!

This show had a large cast — twenty people were on stage at the standing ovation curtain call. We were interested to see how that many people were handled as our two plays also have large casts. Many of the performers in this production had multiple stage, tv and film  credits but were having their debut at Center Stage Baltimore. These actors had to be outstanding singers as well as great dancers. The show featured exceptional choreography by Chase Brook. I predict it will be a hit on Broadway and then tour. The music will keep you clapping. See it if you get a chance.

The two plays Laura and I have written were Christmas shows written with Community Theatre in mind. Community Theatre works with limited budgets and local (often exceptional) talent. But these theaters have constraints. Christmas shows are frequently fund raisers so in the case of our first play, The Santa Diaries, anybody who wanted a part got one.  Large casts are great for ticket sales to grandparents, aunts and uncles and next door neighbors, but large casts create staging problems and parts that were written originally for one theater may not work for another.

The idea for our next play has been germinating for a while. It will have just four cast members. We’ll start work on that soon. In the meantime we see as much theater as we can. We have a lot to learn.

 

Write on Wednesday: Damn Those Adverbs

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

― Mark Twain

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I suspect Twain was talking about adverbs – those pesky words that usually often end in ‘ly’.  It’s not that you can’t ever use adverbs, but it can be a mark of a lazy writer. Adverbs, which describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs are easier to use than showing our readers what we want them to see.

I have been using an editing program called SmartEdit. I saw it reviewed on a writing blog and bought a single user license for around $70. I purchased it last year when I was reviewing my first two novels before sending them for proofing in anticipation of republishing. That project is still in the works, but on track.

SmartEdit was worth the investment. It ranked the adverbs in my writing by the number of times I used them. It allowed me to make corrections/changes on the spot. The program has eleven functions including repetitions, how many times a word or phrase is used, points out cliches and how often a sentence is started the same way. It helped me tighten my writing.

 

This came in today’s mail.

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I opened the envelope and let out a whoop. My new Dramatist Guild member card had arrived. It used to be flimsy cardboard but is now substantial black plastic. The photo makes it look brown, but it’s matt black.  Sophisticated, elegant, understated, almost a clone of a Visa Black Card.

Guild membership is a very big deal. You can only apply to become a member if you have had a play produced for a paying audience. I am exceedingly proud of my membership.

Sorry, Mark, sometimes you just have to use adverbs!

 

 

Write on Wednesday – April 11, 2018

A week ago today Laura Ambler and I met with Julianna Skluzacek, Artistic Director of the Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.

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The Merlin Players produced The Santa Diaries in 2014 and reached out to us about writing another Christmas show for them. Laura came up with the brilliant idea of writing the original cast of characters but five years later.

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We wrote a spec arc in October 2017 and sent it to Julianna.  We began working in earnest on the arc of the play on November.  Julianna put the spec arc before their board and it was accepted as their 2018 Christmas show. Laura and I began writing two or three days a week (for a couple of hours) and by mid January we had a first act. We forwarded it to Julianna just to make sure we were on the same page. She loved it.

Julianna knew she was coming east in the spring and we set a date to meet. On March 5th we sent her the first draft.

When we met last week we read the play out loud. Juliana had a few notes, and some minor suggestions which were easy to fix. Everyone who played the original parts is coming back to reprise the characters. That helped with the writing because we knew the strengths of the actors. One of them hoped there would be another rap song. We had a song but hadn’t thought about making it a rap. Easily done and it made the play better. Julianna said the kid who had played the imaginary Marley dog who was Timmy’s companion hoped he would have a part in the new play. It was a discussion Laura and I had several times and just couldn’t make it work. Julianna had an idea about how to accomplish making sure this character from the first play made it into the second. And it made the play better.

When we were finished we took Julianna to lunch, had a bottle of wine and celebrated. We’ll be going to Minnesota in December to see the premier of A Christmas Wedding, The Santa Diaries 11.

The day after we met with Julianna, Laura and I worked for two hours and made the needed tweaks. The following day I printed out the play again and read it for any necessary typos, etc. Laura fixed those, formatted the script and it was sent off to Julianna.

When I look back on the writing arc of this project I see that steady chunks of time got us to the finish line. Laura and I usually wrote three days a week for about two hours. We quit when our brains weren’t firing on all cylinders. But if we had let this project drift until we were two weeks away from the deadline, we wouldn’t have written the same play. The small changes to dialogue or bits of business for an actor that expanded their character would be missing — those serendipitous ideas that waken you in the middle of the night or while you’re driving.

We are so proud of what we’ve accomplished and can’t wait for December to see it on its feet.

 

 

 

 

 

Six on Saturday – March 10, 2018

It’s a never ending miracle that things in the garden that should, by all rights, be dead, come to life in the Spring.

Usually the forsythia blooms before anything else in mid February. This year it is popping at the same time as the daffodils.

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Below is fennel that I grew last year from seed. When mature it has beautiful bronze foliage. In the fall it finally succumbed (I thought) to killing frosts and then weeks of bitter cold. But it is coming back. It creates something of a problem in terms of my being able to dig that raised bed.  The nearby trees send roots into the beds and if I don’t dig them every spring they become rootbound. The fennel will get set aside while I dig and then replanted.

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I have no idea how this hyacinth got into this particular bed near the hellebores. But it is blooming. You can see chrysanthemums sprouting below the flower.

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A bed of irises. These are a dark blue variety that a friend gave me. I mow my iris beds in the fall with the lawn mower and they don’t seem to mind at all. I do the same thing in the spring with lariope. I occasionally see signs of borers in my iris, but I only keep the ones that don’t seem too bothered. I am a lazy gardener.

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The pink metal birds below mark one edge of two septic tanks that I found when I was putting in garden beds. You can see the little pieces of rebar next to the bird stakes. I used those at first but kept tripping on them. Then I put acid green tennis balls on them. I kind of liked them, but they eventually faded in the sun. Having a stake in the middle of a path is something of a problem. Eventually I’ll get around to moving the stones. I need to know where the septic tank is because there’s not much soil on top of it which is how I found it in the first place when I tried to plant that flowering cherry tree.

Now that I see this photo I realize I need to move the start of the path between the birds. Duh! The sedums are easy to move.

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Another spring miracle. I was repotting agapanthas last fall and had leftovers. A friend had told me that hers were planted outside and usually made it through the winter, so I stuck some in the ground. And they are putting out new growth. The pot I brought inside didn’t bloom this winter. If these bloom this summer, all the agapanthas will get moved outside.

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That’s my six this week. We had more rain so the back garden is still flooded and I can’t work there yet. But this week the rest of the roses in the front of the house were cut back. I’m making progress.

On the Writing Front

The first draft of the play was emailed to the director.  Now I have to get back to my novel which was put on hold for a little while. I couldn’t manage to keep two sets of characters separate. Characters have a way of popping up where you least expect them.  A Hot Dish lady from a Christmas themed play doesn’t belong in a novel set in the Caribbean. Sort of like that pink hyacinth, except it is much more welcome.